My Festival: Will Pickvance

The pianist and Fringe regular answers our Q&A.

Will Pickvance

What are you doing at this year’s Edinburgh festivals?

I’m adapting a piece of Zoom theatre for the stage. That must at least make me contemporary in 2021. Earlier this year, with director Lu Kemp and Horsecross Arts, we developed my family show First Piano on the Moon for Zoom audiences. The audience were on the end of screens and so were Lu and her team for rehearsals from their various lockdown hangouts around Scotland. The magic peculiar to live theatre was inevitably going to go missing, so we looked to make the Zoom format have a quality of its own. Positioning cameras in novel places, technical director Tim Reid gave audiences a pianist’s view of playing, up-close glissandos and the inside mechanics of the piano at work. Lu cleverly used camera angles to heighten storytelling and create a new kind of intimacy. By the time the audience appeared in the little postage stamp windows, I was sharing a theatre experience with packed house. The Zoom call finished, there I was, just in my studio, me and my piano.

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Now it’s heading back into the theatre. Off the Zoom, onto the Moon. No cameras, no screens. Just a piano, on stage. The remote experience away will make these new shows have a special resonance, for me as a performer, and I hope, for everyone in the audience.

Tell us about your first ever Edinburgh festivals appearance.

As a student, I came up from London to do Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest. I was at the piano to provide underscore and short interludes between scenes. It being the only Wilde on the Fringe that year rather than our particular competence, we had sell-out audiences. For some reason, half the cast had to head home a day before the end of the run and someone had the hair-brain idea that the actors should instead do impro in character, taking audience suggestions, like on the TV show Whose Line is it Anyway? Lady Bracknell singing the Bee Gees. Terrible. I apologise to anyone who was left scarred by this incident.

Please name a piece of music that sums up the past year for you.

Beethoven invented boogie-woogie. If you don’t believe me, listen to Piano Sonata no. 32, second movement. In lockdown I’ve been trying to memorise this mind-blowing piece. It’s the last sonata Beethoven wrote for piano, written when he was profoundly deaf and tearing his hair out. It starts in explosive rage, before a pantomime villain-like theme emerges. But then, seemingly out of nowhere, the swinging boogie kicks in, that you laugh out loud, imagining Beethoven laughing at the future, saying “just in case you thought I hadn’t thought of this too”. Being Beethoven, he then takes it all to another level, a kind of homecoming, distilling all his lifetime’s craft into a sublime, tear-jerking farewell.

Do you have a favourite memory of the festival?

Two weeks into a festival run, two shows a day. Midnight. My partner went into labour. 6am our boy arrived. Good timing, as I had an 11.30am performance at the Storytelling Centre. No need to rush. They came on stage at the end, gave me champagne, I had to drink quickly before it warmed up. Back to hospital, mother and baby both doing well. My evening show and afterwards a spontaneous gathering of my favourite people, at the Dagda. And I didn’t have to cancel a show!

Thanks! We’d like to buy you a drink. What would you like from the socially distanced bar?

My studio is directly above Barney’s Beer Brewery at Summerhall. The smell of hops and barley fill my space and make me nostalgic for a time when you could just go downstairs and have a pint at the Royal Dick, bumping into residents and performers, sharing ideas and stories. I’d like to raise a Barney’s to a future when spontaneity can be spontaneous again.

Will Pickvance’s First Piano on the Moon is at Pleasance EICC, 6-15 August, 3pm. www.pleasance.co.uk. Will Pickvance Plays Piano is at Summerhall, 22 August, 8pm. www.summerhall.co.uk

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